As thrilling it is to see a sweeping, 46,000-square-foot marketplace brimming with Italian food open in Dallas, there is something else that Eataly’s arrival does. It confirms that Dallas, and the greater area in which local farmers and producers sow land and raise animals, is a bona fide slow food city.
No, it’s not surprising; it’s something that has been growing for many years. Yes, we’ve been abuzz from being named Best Restaurant City of the Year by Bon Appetit. But to have a thriving restaurant scene, a city needs to have an even richer agriculture environment. Look no further than the microgreens at Profound Foods and the pasture-raised beef from local ranchers. It all goes hand in hand, which is why Eataly’s decision to open in Dallas is more than just exciting, it’s affirming.
Two years ago, the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of Slow Food USA was reborn, taking up again the mission to protect natural resources and ensure equitable access to fresh, nutritious food, among other tenets. (The programming this year, by the way, has been engaging, with virtual talks about the connections between race and food justice.) The Slow Food Movement was founded in Bra, Italy in 1986 by Carlos Petrini who was witnessing the impending globalism of fast food. Petrini wanted to protect Italy’s food culture, one that embraced regional delicacies, local sourcing, and a slow approach that pushed against the growing popularity of convenience over quality.
This brings us to Eataly. Still with me? Good. The first Eataly opened in 2007 in Torino, Italy with Oscar Farinetti, who collaborated with Petrini, at the helm. He baked Slow Food philosophies into his company, selling quality goods over what’s easy or fast. Supporting local farmers, butchers, and other artisans is crucial. Learning about where a food comes from, who made it, is a part of the experience—it’s what keeps us connected to and respectful of la terra, the earth.
When Eataly opens on December 9 at noon in the NorthPark Center, you’ll find 10,000 local and Italian products, three restaurants, and one cooking school (virtual to start).
Whenever this global food emporium lands in a new city, people wonder if they’re displacing smaller markets that already offer Italian wines, some Italian selections of cured meats. Eataly is ready for this question. When I sat down for a Zoom call with Eataly Global VP of Brand Partnerships Dino Borri, who’d just arrived back in New York from Italy, it was easy to tell that he’s fielded this query before.
“In a city like Dallas there are already some very good Italian stores. They are doing an amazing job, a great job,” says Borri, claiming that Eataly’s presence help these specialty shops, like Jimmy’s in Old East Dallas. “They are going to work more than before… People think that we are a competitor but as they say [rising tides raise all ships],” he says, but recalled the aphorism in Italian.
What’s especially different, is the experience and breadth of offerings.
“Having a place like Eataly, it’s really like to have piazza like Campo dei Fiori,” says Borri, referring to one of Rome’s most famous open-air markets, “where you go in, every day you can find the same taste, the same ingredient, like to be really Italian.” Plus, many of the thousands of products are “only brought in U.S. or in Dallas by Eataly. The producer is so small they only export with us.”
Borri also notes a little Italian history.
“We were conquered by everybody, and everybody brought a different kind of food, a different kind of culture,” he says.
With that in mind, expect 500 different cheeses and salumi (five kinds of prosciutto!), and over 100 bottles of 100 percent extra virgin olive oil. There is also organic flour from Mulino Marino macinata a pietra (meaning stone ground) that Eataly uses in its bakery. It is there for you to buy for your home. There is fresh pasta upon fresh pasta and over 1,000 bottles of wine and liquor.
“But we want to be, as much as we can, local,” said Borri. “The fresh food has to be local. Think about produce, think about meat.” So at the butcher counter, or la macelleria, find smoked sausages from Hudson Meat Market out of Marble Falls and American wagyu from A Bar N Ranch, in addition to local cheeses and dairy options and a selection of local beers and grocery products.
“Eataly always wants to have a very big impact with the local sustainable production,” Borri says. “This is the philosophy behind Slow Food.”
“Having a place like Eataly, it’s really like to have piazza like Campo dei Fiori.”Dino Borri
Eataly sourced locally in terms of talent, too. They’ve brought in Yia Medina, who formerly was the executive chef at Jasper’s for a year until the early coronavirus-induced shutdown closed the restaurant. She came to Dallas from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria thrashed the island nation. Now she’ll be in the heart of the kitchen once again, this time using products from the marketplace to showcase dishes to customers. Recipes are more or less already set, so there is decidedly less creative license for Medina. Still, she says she gets to be “hands-on from scratch, like with the pasta. It’s different, but that’s why I decided to do it. I wanna keep learning.”
It’s also an opportunity to slow down and find a sense of work-life balance that the restaurant world doesn’t often afford its chefs or workers. “I’ve been in the kitchen 15 years; it’s a job that requires a lot of sacrifice—in family, health-wise—I’m used to working 14 hour days.” Now she gets to spend more time with her three kids.
To borrow a wholly unrelated Italian chain’s phrasing, when you’re here, you’re famiglia.